Breast cancer – it’s the most common form of cancer in the UK with 47,400 women and 300 men being diagnosed with it every year, yet still many of us would rather ignore it, just hoping it’s never something we have to deal with. October is breast cancer awareness month; a month dedicated to getting people informed about breast cancer, how to reduce your risk of getting it, how to spot the symptoms early and about what help and treatment is available if you are diagnosed. We have compiled an overview of some of the most important things you need to know about breast cancer; more information can be found online at sites such as breastcancercare.org.uk and macmillan.org.uk, but if you are worried about anything at all it’s always best to go to your local GP to put your mind at ease.
The best way to treat breast cancer is to catch it as early as possible: regularly check your breasts for anything that feels or looks out of the ordinary and seek help as soon as something doesn’t appear to be quite right. The CoppaFeel campaign is specifically targeting young people, appearing everywhere from university campuses to music festivals, with the aim to stamp out late detection and misdiagnosis of breast cancer by encouraging everyone to regularly check their boobs and be confident enough to seek medical help if they spot anything odd. They have a list of changes to look and feel for that could be an early sign of cancer.
• Changes in skin texture (such as puckering or dimpling);
• Nipple inversion, change in direction or discharge;
• Swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone;
• Changes in size or shape;
• A rash or crusting around the nipple area;
• Lumps and thickening
• Constant pain in your breast or armpit.
These can also be accompanied by feelings of general ill-health such as tiredness but not always, so as soon as you find anything strange whilst doing your regular check, even if you otherwise feel perfectly well, go to your GP for a check-up!
The actual causes of breast cancer are unknown, but there are certain things that can affect a woman’s chances of getting it. The first is age; as you get older the risk increases, and 8 out of 10 cases occur in women over 50. It is still fairly rare for those under 35, but women who’ve had breast cancer before or any other sort of breast condition are also more likely to develop breast cancer. There are various lifestyle factors that have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, smoking heavily and drinking more than 2 units a day for a prolonged time are both risk factors and being overweight when you are older can cause a hormonal imbalance that puts you in danger. Finally, genetic factors can also play a role, but they only account for 5-10% of cases and the genetic change that causes it is only likely to be present if there have been an unusually high number of cases in your family or if they happened at a young age.
Treatment will vary depending on how soon the cancer is diagnosed, but the most common form is surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. If the affected area is too large then the woman may undergo chemotherapy or hormonal therapy to first shrink it before it is surgically removed (neo-adjuvant therapy). Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, radiotherapy, biological therapy and the medication Herceptin can all also be used after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer re-occurring. In some cases the whole breast must be removed (a mastectomy) but this is usually accompanied with breast reconstruction either immediately or some time later. There are also many channels available to those who have to live with breast cancer if treatment is unsuccessful, there are vast support networks and a lot of free help is easy to find, meaning one can continue to lead a happy, normal life for years after diagnosis.
Hopefully this article has left you a little more informed about breast cancer; if there’s one thing you take from this we truly hope it’s the message that regularly checking your breasts is an extremely important yet simple way to safeguard your health. Keep an eye out for more articles about breast cancer awareness month on the Her Campus website for more information about what’s going on and what you can do to help out and spread the word!
Image Credits: breastcancercare.org.uk, coppafeel.org